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Mindblowing Land Art Installation Turns Arizona Desert into a Living Sculpture

Pyramidal art forms carved into the Arizona desert create a stunning piece of land art
Photography by Josh Chomik

A celebrated artist created one of the largest pieces of land art in Arizona for a band of the same name. A dry riverbed in the Navajo Nation—just outside of Round Rock—transformed into a sprawling 300-foot-wide landscape installation that is featured in the music video for “Moving On” by the electropop trio A R I Z O N A.

The production team scoured the state for the right location, and the artwork was created by California artist Jim Denevan—his first in the Grand Canyon State—along with his son, Brighton Denevan. Inspired by James Turell, the pyramidal piece was hand-shaped and carved with sand and was set to light and sound. “Music is grand…it exists on the air. It’s very present,” Denevan says. “This artwork is large and simultaneously visually very wondrous but also gentle and ephemeral, somewhat like music, so it’s a good match.”

To learn more about how this artwork and video came together, we caught up with Owen Brown, the video’s director, creative director and executive producer.

Q&A: Owen Brown on Creating Arizona’s Largest Land Art

Tell us how this video and artwork came to be.

Artist Jim Deneven poses with his latest project, the largest piece of land art in Arizona
Artist Jim Deneven poses with his latest project, the largest piece of land art in Arizona. Photo by Owen Brown.

One of the first questions I asked (the band A R I Z O N A) was about Arizona, the state. It just was so interesting to me, and in my research of the band I noticed that they really hadn’t done almost anything with Arizona, the state. They shot one video in Arizona, and they had released many, many music videos after that … and almost none of it had Arizona as a place. I just thought that was so interesting.

They were just inspired by the place. When I heard about how they’re not from Arizona, but they were inspired by Arizona, and that over the years since they became a major band named after the state they started going to Arizona, and really fell in love with it over the years. There just seems to be genuine love for the state. That came as a direct result of the art.

That’s where I started thinking about land art, and I was thinking Arizona has incredible landscapes, and it would be incredible to take those classic landscapes and juxtapose them with modern art.

My original thought was, if we could take a Jeff Koons sculpture and put it within the Grand Canyon. I started to think about what we could put in front of one of these beautiful red rock formations, and I was literally just searching, and I discovered land art. I had never heard about this niche before.

Arizona band poses in the desert with their land art installation
A R I Z O N A band members pose with the art installation just outside of Round Rock.

It’s such a cool medium. There are so many incredible artists working in this space. I saw Jim Denevan’s name, and once I looked up his name, I immediately had an idea of how we could work together. I sent him an email. He wrote back in about 24 hours with just one sentence, which was, ‘Let’s make something huge.’

One idea we had been talking about was the idea of triangles. There are three sides, three members of Arizona. It looks like a mountain—we’re basing this whole thing with the mountains and rock formations of Arizona.

The idea that we presented to Jim was to use triangles, to create a piece of land art in front of a red rock formation where the triangles cascade out and then to have (the) guys perform in the center of it to create a performance of epic proportions and use that as a music video.

Did you all set out to make one of the largest pieces of land art?

We didn’t. It wasn’t until I went through the process, the very, very difficult process, of trying to find the land, that I started to understand the context of what we were doing. I kind of just started to see that this has not been done before in Arizona.

What Jim is doing is always temporary. It’s using the beauty of nature and the raw materials in nature to create art, and by that definition it is temporary. The world that is created through the art within nature always recedes back to nature after a period of time, and there are no elements brought in to create this that aren’t natural, so all the materials that are there naturally are used. It’s a really beautiful artform as a result of that.

That was a huge piece of inspiration for me, just realizing this has never been done before; we’re doing something that is historic in the state and historic and land art in general, so if we can pull this off, I think people will really care.

What was it like collaborating with people on the Navajo Nation?

That was the most incredible part of the project for me personally. They made the project possible.

The hardest thing was finding a piece of land where the land was flat. We had a rock formation behind the piece of land, and the sand was soft so we could dig into it and sculpt it. We had to get permission to fly drones.

Navajo Nation helped us find that location, and then once we found it – because we’re creating art that’s the width of a football field and 1,000 feet tall – we had to get the entire community behind us.

Every single person was excited about it, and almost everyone that we spoke to wanted to be involved in some way.

Everyone worked so hard to bring this to life. It was so inspiring to see that and to interface with a new community for the first time, and just feel surrounded by love. It’s the kind of stuff you do see in movies.;

Watch the “Moving On” Music Video by ARIZONA



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